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"Inexperience" criticism as Assistant Minister blocks £120m town revamp

Monday 23 October 2023

"Inexperience" criticism as Assistant Minister blocks £120m town revamp

Monday 23 October 2023


The Constable of St Helier has attacked the "inexperience" of a new Assistant Minister after she dealt a fatal blow to a £120m plan to regenerate town with more than 200 homes and an apart-hotel – against a planning inspector's advice.

Le Masurier had submitted plans to redevelop 2.5 acres of land it owns between Broad Street and Commercial Street.

Le Masurier's application for ‘Les Sablons’ was refused by the Planning Committee last December – a decision Le Masurier appealed, making its case to an independent planning inspector at a hearing in April.

The inspector recommended that the appeal should succeed, and planning permission should be granted, but Assistant Environment Minister Hilary Jeune did not agree.

"Overbearing and oppressive"

Deputy Jeune has recently rejected the appeal, primarily because of its impact on Commercial Street. She took the decision because Environment Minister Jonathan Renouf was conflicted on a technical point: because he was on the Council of the National Trust when it had put in an objection to the scheme, even though he was unaware that it had.

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Pictured: An artist's impression of Les Sablons' central courtyard. (Le Masurier)

She concluded that the height of the scheme along Commercial Street would be significantly in excess of planning guidance, and its scale and mass on that side would be “overbearing and oppressive”.

Deputy Jeune added that the proposed development, along Commercial Street, “fails to make a positive contribution to the local character and distinctiveness of the place as it does not successfully respond to its context to ensure that the enhancement of identity, character and the creation of a durable and safe sense of place.”

In his report, planning inspector Philip Staddon, had concluded that “the height of the development would not be excessive or inappropriate in this particular case, and that the development would be acceptable in terms of the character and appearance of the area and the townscape”.

He added that “the design and layout of the scheme would achieve good quality accommodation and that it would deliver appropriate living conditions for future occupiers.”

Opportunity to "substantial regeneration" now "lost"

Responding to the appeal rejection, Le Masurier Managing Director Brian McCarthy said: “This is a very sad day for St Helier and our island. The opportunity for substantial regeneration of over 2.5 acres of the centre of town at our site on Broad Street and Commercial Street has been lost. 

“The independent inspector recommended the scheme for approval at appeal, consistently agreeing with the significant merits of the proposals, but the Assistant Minister has gone against his decision. 

“Why spend taxpayers’ money to bring to the island an independent professional planning inspector only to ignore his recommendation? To say we are disappointed is an understatement.”

"Decisions like this do nothing to support our economy"

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Pictured: The proposed view from Charing Cross. (Le Masurier)

He added: “I and many others in the industry think our planning process is fundamentally broken.

"The recent independent review of the Planning Department was scathing in its criticism of the Department and has prompted a 16-point action plan from the Government. 

“In my opinion, this is too little, too late. It is imperative that our planning system considers our island’s declared needs, and gives fair consideration to proposals that are put forward, which will go a long way to resolving the challenges the island faces on housing, tourism, and inward investment in St Helier. 

“In addition, the construction industry is under immense pressure at a very difficult time and decisions like this do nothing to support our economy.”

"Irrational decision" a "result of political inexperience"

One of those who had publicly supported Les Sablons at the Planning Committee and appeal stages had been St Helier Constable Simon Crowcroft.

Responding to the appeal rejection, he said: “It is a very surprising outcome given the planning inspector's recommendation for approval.

“It an irrational decision which is, I think, a result of the political inexperience of the Assistant Minister.

“It is regrettable that she did not seek to canvass the views of the parish, including the Constable, beforehand, because I would have explained to her that this development is a catalyst for the regeneration of the heart of town.”

Rejection reasons were "grasping at straws" 

He added: “I think the Assistant Minister has got it completely wrong.

"Commercial Street is not the main frontage – it has always been a working street and a lot of buildings back on to it. This is almost grasping at straws.

“I am now in discussions with the Chief Minister and other States Members to see if this decision can be reversed. This is too important to lose at the behest of someone who has not got a big mandate and someone who has not been in the States for long.”

"Rejecting the application was the correct move"

The feedback was not all negative, however, with Reform Jersey's Sam Mézec saying on Twitter that "rejecting the application was the correct move".

"Of the 240 homes to be built in this development, precisely 0 of them were to be designated as 'affordable'," he reasoned. "This despite a planning requirement that on developments of more than 50 homes a minimum of 15% must be affordable."

The Environment Minister said: “Whilst the Les Sablons Broad Street regeneration project remains in the appeal window, the application is still live. Therefore, it is inappropriate to comment further at this time."

It is the second time in recent weeks that Ministers have gone against the recommendation of a planning inspector. Last month, a panel of politicians, which included Deputies Renouf and Jeune, decided to reject plans by Jersey Development Company for a multi-million redevelopment of the Waterfront which would have included around 1,000 homes. 

Mr Staddon had recommended that a decision be paused to give JDC time to amend its scheme – but the panel chose to refuse the application in its entirety.

What exactly was proposed at Broad Street?

Le Masurier applied to demolish existing buildings at 31-41 Broad Street and 19-29 Commercial Street and construct 137 one-bedroom, 96 two-bedroom and five three-bedroom flats. 

The plans included building a 103 room ‘aparthotel’ - to be run by Dublin-based Staycity Group - with ground-floor restaurant, cafes and shops with associated car parking, a landscaped public courtyard and pedestrian access link between the two streets. 

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Pictured: Another view of the proposed scheme. (Le Masurier)

The plans included restoring facades to 35-37 Broad Street, which is the only part of the development on that side still standing. 

This is because Le Masurier had received permission to demolish the existing buildings under a previous planning application, which received permission in December 2011 and is still live. 

READ MORE...

INSIGHT: Years in the making, rejected in a moment... Where the multi-million Waterfront plan went wrong

REJECTED: Plans for multi-million Waterfront revamp

£120m town development 'unviable' if 15% of flats have to be affordable

Developer appeals rejection of £120m Broad Street transformation plan

£120m Broad Street revamp branded “banal and unimaginative”

Homes, apart-hotel, shops and restaurants in £120m town revamp plan

INSIGHT: Is an unofficial planning 'tax' pushing up the cost of housing?

LISTEN...

At the time the plans were launched, Express spoke to Mr McCarthy about the vision for Les Sablons and the wider regeneration of St. Helier...

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